Douglas opposes tuition increase for state colleges

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he won’t support proposed tuition increases at Vermont state colleges. Douglas is a member of the state college board of trustees. The board is considering the tuition hikes on Thursday. The head of the college system says without the tuition hike, there will be a decline in quality of education at the colleges.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) The proposed increases would vary from six percent for Community College of Vermont to 6.5 percent for Johnson, Lyndon and Castleton State, and eight percent for Vermont Technical College.

Douglas says he visited a college fair last week and talked with parents who wondered how they could afford to send their children to college. He says he recognizes that Vermont colleges have to deal with the same increases in costs like health insurance and workers compensation as state government.

(Douglas) “But as I told the chancellor, state government is a $4 billion per year industry with many of the same cost pressures and we haven’t seen the need to increase the net tuition, or taxation, on those paying into our system. It wasn’t easy, it required some difficult choices but we did it and it was the right thing to do. So tomorrow, at the state colleges trustees meeting, I’m going to do what I believe is the right thing and vote against the proposed increases that the system will be recommending.”

(Zind) Douglas acknowledged that the college system has made a significant effort to cut costs by consolidating services and reducing staff. He says state support in the past hasn’t been enough and he’ll look for ways to increase state funding over the long term. In the meantime Douglas says the colleges will have to find ways to reduce expenses.

But Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Robert Clarke says further cuts will hurt the quality of the education being offered by the state colleges.

(Clarke) “Because we’ve done all the easy reductions. We’ve even done the hard reductions. I had the presidents each explain the impact if we raise tuition at lower levels. And it’s not good, it’s not good for colleges. This is at the same time when we’re increasing enrollment significantly. We’ve had a 21 percent increase enrollment in the last three years and almost all of it has been Vermonters.”

(Zind) Clarke says in past years, the Vermont college system has held tuition increases to well below the national average while overall state support for the colleges has declined. He says without more state money, the colleges have to rely on tuition – and even with the proposed increases, some costs will have to be cut.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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